Chapel Hill, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Coming off a heart-wrenching loss to archrival Duke, the 15th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels return home to play host to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in an ACC matchup at the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday.
Roy Williams' Tar Heels had the fourth-ranked Blue Devils right where they wanted them late in Wednesday's game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but faltered down the stretch and eventually lost the game in overtime, 92-90. It was the second straight setback for UNC, dropping the team to 18-8 overall and 8-5 in conference play.
While the Tar Heels are currently saddled with a losing streak, Brian Gregory's Yellow Jackets just ended one, as a two-game skid came to a close with Georgia Tech's 63-52 victory over Clemson on Monday. With the win, Tech moved within two games of .500 overall (12-14). The team has struggled to find wins in league play though, sporting a mere 3-11 ACC record.
North Carolina has won four straight meetings with Georgia Tech and currently holds a 64-24 advantage series advantage. UNC holds a 22-4 edge in series games played at the Smith Center.
The Yellow Jackets held a two-point lead at the half (23-21) and pulled away after the intermission, shooting 50 percent from the floor in the second stanza to secure the 11-point win at home over Clemson earlier in the week. Josh Heath was the unexpected leader at the offensive end for Tech, coming off the bench with 14 points in 22 minutes of work. Demarco Cox and Marcus Georges-Hunt added 12 and 11 points, respectively, for Georgia Tech, which outscored the Tigers in the paint, 40-20 in the game.
Georgia Tech has struggled at times offensively this season, averaging 64.4 ppg on a mere .415 shooting. So the recent suspension of fourth-leading scorer Chris Bolden (6.9 ppg) may have an impact over the next couple of weeks. The team will still look for Georges-Hunt to leads the way with his 13.8 ppg. Charles Mitchell is another frontcourt option with 10.0 ppg and a team-best 6.8 rpg, as is Cox (8.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
It was everything expected of one of sport's greatest rivalries, as UNC and Duke went toe-to-toe the week, as both teams had big leads, followed by strong comebacks, finally ending in overtime. The Tar Heels' gameplan was to contain Duke's freshman center Jahlil Okafor, and UNC did just that, with the trio of Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto. The three forwards all had strong games in the loss. Meeks and Johnson tallied 18 points apiece, with Johnson completing a double-double with 12 rebounds. Tokoto poured in 15 points, while Isaiah Hicks and Nate Britt chipped in with 12 and 11 points, respectively. Star guard Marcus Paige struggled though, going 2-of-11 from the field and finishing with just five points.
Strong offensive performances are nothing new for North Carolina, which enters this game averaging 79.1 ppg on a healthy .469 shooting. The team has had little trouble establishing a low-post game with its talented forwards and that has led to an impressive +9.2 rebounding margin. Still, its Paige that leads the way in both scoring (13.6 ppg) and assists (4.2 apg). Johnson (12.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and Meeks (12.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg) put up almost identical numbers as a potent one-two punch down low. Justin Jackson (9.5 ppg) and Tokoto (8.8 ppg) add to a deep scoring pool.